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Federal prosecutors request court prohibit 'mercy instruction' in Roof trial

Dylann Roof  (Source: Live 5) Dylann Roof (Source: Live 5)
CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) -

Prosecutors in the federal trial against accused Charleston church shooter Dylann Roof asked the court to prevent the defendant from introducing a "mercy instruction or related argument" at trial.

If Roof is found guilty of murder in connection with the June 2015 shooting deaths of nine parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME church, Roof's defense team may request the judge instruct jurors they are "never required" to sentence Roof to death.

"The United States objects to such an argument or instruction on the grounds that it is not consistent with the statutory scheme of the [Federal Death Penalty Act] as properly interpreted by the Fourth Circuit," the motion, filed by federal prosecutor Beth Drake, states.

Prosecutors argue the law already gives jurors complete discretion in determining whether aggravating circumstances outweigh any mitigating factors, and, thereby, whether the death penalty is warranted.

Roof's defense team had not yet responded to the motion.

A decision would likely be made at a future hearing in the case.

Roof faces 33 federal hate crime and weapons charges.

Roof faces nine murder counts and three attempted murder counts under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which prohibits using a dangerous weapon to cause bodily injury or attempting to do so based on race or color.

He is also charged with nine murders and three attempted murders under a second federal hate crime statute that prohibits the use or threat of force to obstruct any person's free exercise of their religious beliefs.

The remaining nine counts are charges of the use of a firearm to commit murder during and in relation to a crime of violence, the federal indictment states.

Roof entered a plea of not guilty to the federal charges last July.

Roof's federal trial is set to begin on Nov. 7, 2016.

The shooting claimed the life of Mother Emanuel AME's pastor, State Sen. and the Rev. Clementa Pinckney. In addition to Pinckney, the other victims of the shooting were Tywanza Sanders, the Revs. Sharonda Singleton, DePayne Middleton Doctor, and Daniel Simmons Sr.; and Cynthia Hurd, Myra Thompson, Ethel Lance, and Susie Jackson.

Copyright 2016 WCSC. All rights reserved.

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